Who should be in the running as Marquette’s next head coach?

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

It’s done. Firing a coach is never pleasant, but Marquette needed to move past the Steve Wojciechowski era.

The next week or two will be two of the most critical weeks in Marquette basketball history. The brand has been damaged but not destroyed. Despite the lack of results of the Wojo era, the program never disappeared into the abysses that some other once proud programs have stumbled into. Marquette can survive one misfire on the coaching carousel…but a second one could be disastrous. If the next coach gets seven years and can’t produce…that would mean 1.5 decades without a win in March. That sort of “non-factorness” is the kind of thing that can turn a program from 1980s DePaul into 2000s DePaul. The next hire must be the correct one.

To that end, Paint Touches has been collecting some quantitative data on various coaching candidates who may fit the bill. We looked at 33 candidates in total. Some parameters on these candidates, we only looked at current head coaches, after Wojo, we think a current assistant coach is not the way forward. We also only looked at coaches that Marquette could realistically poach. No, Nate Oates is not leaving Alabama for Marquette because he grew up in Watertown. Now, if some stud coach from another power program lets MU know that he is interested (think Jamie Dixon going to TCU), by all means we should explore that, but you won’t find them in this article. We also did not include coaches that do not pass the sniff test. Rick Pitino ran a strip club for his players. Marquette is not hiring him. The last parameter is that John Beilein and Thad Matta were not included. We have received intel that we trust that says that neither is interested in coming here. If that intel is wrong, then both should shoot to the top of the list.

The data we gathered focused on four general categories of coaching acumen:

Recruiting: What level of players are they bringing in and how do they do on the transfer market?

Program Building: What level was the program at when they took over and where have they taken it to?

In-Season Development: Do their teams get better, worse or stay the same as the season goes on? (Also known as Wojciechowski’s heel)

Postseason Record: When it is win or go home, how do they perform?

Of course, quantitative data isn’t enough to make a decision. Its an important tool to identify who you should be talking to but there is something to be said about the qualitative data gathered in an interview. You need to make sure that the coach is the right fit for your program, for your conference, and for your fanbase. With that in mind, it is our suggestion that Marquette bring in three candidates for interview and pick the one with the correct vision for the program. We have also identified three categories of candidates, as well as our top pick from each category, an understudy if the top pick isn’t interested, and a name that may be a little outside of the box.

The Wily Veterans

Top Choice: Steve Pikiell (Rutgers)

Age: 53
Hometown: Bristol, CT
Alma Mater: UConn
Record at Current Stop: 79-76 (.510)
Past HC Experience: 11 years at Stony Brook (05-16)
Past High Major AC Experience: 1 year at UConn (91-92)
Championships: 4x America East Regular Season (2010, 2012, 2013, 2016), 1x America East Tournament (2016)
Awards: 4x America East Coach of the Year (2010, 2012, 2013, 2016), Jim Phelan Award (2020)

What We Like: Pikiell gets major points for how he has built the Rutgers program. It can’t be overstated what a mess the program was in. It had been 25 years since their last NCAAT appearance and the Scarlet Knights were coming off 10 consecutive losing seasons. Pikiell did start off with three losing seasons of his own, but he raised the level of play, finishing 135, 130, and 78 in KenPom in those three seasons. He finally broke through in year 4, finishing in the top 30 of KenPom and were locks for an NCAA tournament bid prior to COVID ruining everything. He sustained that level of play for another year and now Rutgers is dancing for the first time in three decades. Other coaches we looked at inherited similar messes but what separates Pikiell is that he had to win in a historically strong Big Ten whereas the rest of these candidates were in mid and low major conferences. Pikiell’s teams have a clear identity that emphasizes defense over offense, strong rebounding, and bully ball offense. While not always pretty, his style would be a cultural match for the Big East.

What Gives Us Pause: His recruiting is good compared to the other coaches we looked at but given that he gets to recruit to a high major conference, we would have expected it to be better. Two low-ranked 4-stars in five recruiting classes may not be enough to consistently win at Marquette, though he has made it work so far at Rutgers. He has also spent his entire career in the Northeast. Recruiting to the Big East shouldn’t be a problem for him but will he be able to lure those kids out to the Midwest?

Bottom Line: Pikiell is the only current high major coach on this list (because he’s the only successful one that gets paid little enough to be poached by MU) and has been successful at a program that is much harder to win at than Marquette. If he can lead a historically bad program to back to back NCAAT at large worthy seasons, he should be able to do much more at Marquette.

Understudy: Ritchie McKay (Liberty)

Age: 55
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
Alma Mater: Seattle Pacific
Record at Current Stop: 138-64 (.683)
Past HC Experience: 2 years at Portland State (96-98), 2 years at Colorado State (98-99), 2 years at Oregon St (00-02), 5 years at New Mexico (02-07), 2 years at Liberty (07-09)
Past High Major AC Experience: 1 year at Washington (88-89), 2 years at Washington (93-95), 6 years at Virginia (09-15) Championships: MWC Tournament (2005), 3x Atlantic Sun Regular Season (2019, 2020, 2021), 3x Atlantic Sun Tournament (2019, 2020, 2021)
Awards: Big South Coach of the Year (2016), Jim Phelan Award (2019), 2x Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year (2020, 2021)

What We Like: Ritchie McKay comes with more diverse head coaching experience than anyone else on this list. McKay has had six different head coaching stops at five different institutions. He has an atypical path as he left Liberty to be the Associate Head Coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett for six years, before returning to Liberty. The mess he inherited his second stint at Liberty was abysmal. KenPom rated his first roster 339th preseason and by year 4 he had them ranked inside the top 60. No coach on this list climbed a greater distance in the KenPom ratings. McKay has also dominated the postseason as of late, going undefeated in the Atlantic Sun Tournament since the Flames joined for the 18-19 season. He even has an NCAAT victory to his name as he scored the 5/12 upset in 2019.

What Gives Us Pause: The most obvious thing is that Liberty the institution has some significant issues though there’s no evidence that McKay is a part of that. The interviewers would also need to ask some questions about his time at New Mexico. It was his biggest gig to date and he flamed out in 5 years along with some significant player conduct issues. Also, while we love that McKay has a clearly established system, the system he uses is…well…boring. As a former Bennett assistant he follows the glacial defense first style used by the Cavaliers. But we’ll take it if it leads to Virginia like results.

Bottom Line: A veteran with a diverse experience who has likely seen it all at this point. His teams have a clear identity and he knows how to recruit for it. A recent stint at Virginia means he knows how to recruit at the high major level.

Outside the Box: Travis Ford (SLU)

Age: 51
Hometown: Madisonville, KY
Alma Mater: Mizzou/Kentucky
Record at Current Stop: 88-63 (.583)
Past HC Experience: 3 years at Campbellsville (NAIA 97-00), 5 years at Eastern Kentucky (00-05), 3 years at UMass (05-08), 8 years at Oklahoma State (08-16)
Past High Major AC Experience: None
Championships: 1x OVC Tournament (2005), 1x A-10 Regular Season (2007), 1x A-10 Tournament (2019)
Awards: None

What We Like: Ford did not do well at his last high major stop but he has been rehabilitating his image at SLU. His recruiting for the Billikens has been very impressive, landing two 4-star recruits in five recruiting classes along with six 3-star recruits. More impressive is his work on the transfer market where he has landed 12 transfers in five years to keep SLU infused with the best possible players. SLU was a bit of a mess after the Crews era and Ford has them back in contention for at-large bids though this year’s effort fell short after a lengthy COVID pause.

What Gives Us Pause: Like we said previously, Ford was pretty bad at his first high major stop. Recruitment was good there, landing studs like Markus Smart, but his teams didn’t improve as the season went on. That trend has continued at SLU. He has taken recruiting to new levels but he rarely makes the roster more than the sum of its parts.

Bottom Line: Of the 9 names we give in this article, I’d probably put Ford 9th. He has the recruiting chops but not sure the coaching acumen is enough to win at the level needed.

The Young Guns:

Top Choice: Dennis Gates (Cleveland State)

Age: 41
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Alma Mater: California
Record at Current Stop: 30-28 (.517)
Past HC Experience: None
Past High Major AC Experience: 2 years at California (05-07), 8 years at Florida State (11-19)
Championships: Horizon Regular Season (2021), Horizon Tournament (2021)
Awards: 2x Horizon Coach of the Year (2020, 2021)

What We Like: It’s arguable that no coach on this list had a worse starting point than Dennis Gates. He inherited a roster that was ranked in the 300s by KenPom and the Vikings had not won more than 6 games in conference since 2015. When Gates was announced as head coach he lost about half his team to transfer including eventual Florida Gator Tyree Appleby and St. John’s Red Storm Rasheem Dunn. Despite this, Gates led the Vikings to 7 conference wins in his first year, their most since 2015 and won the conference regular season and tournament in year two, netting him two consecutive Horizon Coach of the Year Awards. Combine this quick head coaching start with his years learning and recruiting future NBA players under Leonard Hamilton and you get an exciting candidate with high upside.

What Gives Us Pause: There simply isn’t enough quantitative data on Gates the head coach. He did win Coach of the Year in his first year, but Cleveland St did still finish below 300 in KenPom. His recruiting at Cleveland St. also focused on JUCOs which works in Horizon but is harder to replicate at the high major level.

Bottom Line: High risk, potentially high reward candidate. He’s young but all the early signs point to a successful coaching career. His ties to the Chicago area and history with Marquette as a GA and former recruiting target certainly don’t hurt.

Understudy: Darian Devries (Drake)

Age: 45
Hometown: Aplington, IA
Alma Mater: Northern Iowa
Record at Current Stop: 69-28 (.711)
Past HC Experience: None
Past High Major AC Experience: 16 years at Creighton (01-18)
Championships: 1x MVC Regular Season (2019)
Awards: 2x MVC Coach of the Year (2019, 2021)

What We Like: A Midwest guy through and through, he has gotten off to a torrid start at Drake. Not much was expected when Devries was hired to be Drake’s fourth coach in four years. Instead, Devries led the Bulldogs to a 24-10 record and regular season championship, earning himself Coach of the Year honors. The second year was lackluster but year three saw the Bulldogs start the season with 18 straight wins and finish it with the program’s first NCAA appearance since 2008. Devries’ teams have a knack for quick starts as he is averaging 55.67 spots of KenPom growth in the first third of seasons, the top mark of the 33 coaches we looked at.

What Gives Us Pause: Lack of diversity in experience is the major knock against Devries. He has one head coaching job and then was an assistant for the same program for 16 years (under two different coaches). Devries has only ever had to play in one specific way and that can be detrimental as we saw during the Wojo era. His recruiting strategy would also have to change as he has relied primarily on 2-star and JUCO players to get him success so far at Drake. Theoretically, his time recruiting for Creighton in the Big East should offset some that concern.

Bottom Line: A young coach who knows the Big East, has significant ties to the Midwest, and has gotten off to a quick start and a historically mediocre program. Recruiting is a concern but you’d at least be guaranteed one 4-star recruit in the 2021 class (Tucker Devries, #90 2021 recruit per 247 Composite).

Outside the Box: Stan Johnson (Loyola Marymount)

Age: 40
Hometown: Liberia, Africa (grew up in Salt Lake City, UT)
Alma Mater: Southern Utah and Bemidji State
Record at Current Stop: 13-9 (.583)
Past HC Experience: None
Past High Major AC Experience: 3 years at Utah (08-11), 2 years at Arizona State (13-15), 5 years at Marquette (15-20)
Championships: None
Awards: None

What We Like: Johnson was mostly added because there is a sizeable faction of Marquette fans who are convinced that Johnson was the only reason Wojo had any success whatsoever during his time at Marquette. But as we watched his first year at Loyola Marymount, the early results are promising. Johnson took a Lions’ squad pegged to finish just barely inside the top 150 and lead them to a 3rd place finish in the WCC and a KenPom ranking just outside the top 100. Most encouraging is that his team continually elevated its play as the season went on. In the final third of this season, the Lions improved their KenPom rating 19 spots from where they were 2/3rds of the season in. It’s a big unfair because he only has one year to judge, but that 19 point improvement in the final 3rd ranks first among the 33 coaches we looked at. Plus, we know all about his recruiting chops and he has already elevated the recruiting at Loyola Marymount.

What Gives Us Pause: While the early returns are great, the reality is that it is seldom wise to fire the #1 and promote his #2. Whatever issues Wojo had, Johnson was a part of them. In addition, the fanbase is looking for a fresh start and may see hiring Johnson as an extension of the Wojo era.

Bottom Line: We know he can recruit. Having personally sat in on some of his pre-game pep talks to the players, I can tell you that he has the ability to make you want to run through a wall. As a bonus, he would likely be able to retain several of the key players on the roster. Despite this, there simply isn’t enough data to conclude that he will be a successful head coach. He is a good name to keep on this list though, in case the first few choices don’t work out.

In Their Prime:

Top Choice: Craig Smith (Utah State)

Age: 48
Hometown: Stephen, MN
Alma Mater: North Dakota
Record at Current Stop: 74-23 (.763)
Past HC Experience: 3 years at Maryville State (NAIA 04-07), 4 years at South Dakota (14-18), 3 years at Utah State (18-21)
Past High Major AC Experience: 2 years at Nebraska (12-14)
Championships: 1x Summit Regular Season (2017), 1x MWC Regular Season (2019), 2x MWC Tournament (2019, 2020)
Awards: NAIA D2 Coach of the Year (2007), 2x DAC Coach of the Year (2006, 2007), Summit Coach of the Year (2017), MWC Coach of the Year (2019)

What We Like: Smith took over a Utah St team that was coming off a bad coaching hire after the legendary Stew Morrill retired. The Aggies are among the top mid-major programs but they had fallen on tough times. Smith turned them around in a single season. In his three years, the Aggies have never finished outside the top 50 in KenPom, the only coach out of the 33 evaluated to manage that feat. While his recruiting is solid for the Mountain West, it is the development that bring in-season that has lead the Aggies to Success. In his three seasons, the Aggies have finished 25 spots or more better than their preseason KenPom rating in all three seasons. Again, he was the only coach in the 33 evaluated to accomplish this. In addition, his teams play better as the season goes on, no end of season collapses. In fact, his best ball has often been saved for the MWC tourney where he is a staggering 8-1.

What Gives Us Pause: Not much honestly. He has been successful at every head coaching stop, including winning Coach of the Year awards in three separate conferences. The one concern we noted was his lack of interest in the transfer market. In three seasons with the Aggies, he has only picked up a single transfer while losing 9 players to other teams. With instant transfers likely becoming a thing in the immediate future, the next coach will need to have the ability to successfully recruit incoming transfers and rerecruit players to keep them from transferring.

Bottom Line: Of the 33 we looked at, Craig Smith was our top choice to replace Wojo. He has Midwest ties, his teams improve as the season goes on, and most importantly he has been a winner at progressively bigger jobs. All signs point to Smith being a success at the high major level.

Understudy: Joe Pasternack (UC-Santa Barbara)

Age: 43
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Alma Mater: Indiana
Record at Current Stop: 88-33 (.727)
Past HC Experience: 3 years at New Orleans (07-11)
Past High Major AC Experience: 6 years at California (01-07), 6 years at Arizona (2011-2017)
Championships: Big West Regular Season (2021), Big West Tournament (2021)
Awards: Big West Coach of the Year (2021)

What We Like: Hardcore Marquette fans will realize that Pasternack was the guy who took over for Buzz Williams after Buzz left the New Orleans job. He was unremarkable for New Orleans but he took some time as an assistant under Sean Miller at Arizona and his results at UC-Santa Barbara have been much better. He’s led the Gauchos to four consecutive 21 win seasons after taking over a team that had finished 6-22 the year before. Pasternack is a force on the transfer market with 12 transfers in over four short seasons, making him a likely fit for the new world order of instant transfers. Through in his experience recruiting for Arizona and you can have confidence that he will be able to recruit at the high major level. His teams have a clear identity that focus on getting to the line and taking high value shots while denying those opportunities on defense.

What Gives Us Pause: Honestly, not a lot here either. His record in the last third of the season isn’t great with his teams getting 3.75 spots worse on KenPom on average. Otherwise, he’s solid across the board though not really elite in any one area.

Bottom Line: A very solid mid-major coach with experience recruiting high level players for a top program. As an added bonus, if there is any truth to the idea that Marquette values academic success more than other programs, we can guarantee you that UC-Santa Barbara’s standards are higher. Besides, the last head coach from New Orleans that we hired turned out to be pretty good.

Outside the Box: Grant McCasland (North Texas)

Age: 44
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Alma Mater: Baylor
Record at Current Stop: 61-41 (.598)
Past HC Experience: 5 years at Midland College (NJCAA 04-09), 2 years at Midwestern State (D2 09-11) 1 year at Arkansas State (16-17)
Past High Major AC Experience: 5 years at Baylor (11-16)
Championships: CBI Champion (2018), C-USA Regular Season (2020), C-USA Tournament (2021)
Awards: C-USA Coach of the Year (2020)

What We Like: Took over a team ranked in the 300s by Kenpom and led them to a top 150 finish in his first season and two consecutive top 80 finishes in years three and four. No coach develops his team more in-season. His teams on average finished 76.25 spots higher in KenPom than their preseason ratings, the top mark of any coach that we evaluated. Has significant success in win or go home formats going 5-2 in the C-USA tournament and 5-1 in the CBI. Had a similar level of success in his first year with Arkansas State, finishing in the top 125 of KenPom after being rated 281st preseason.

What Gives Us Pause: He’s an outside of the box hire for a few reasons. First, outside of his one season at Arkansas State, his entire 17 year coaching career is in the state of Texas, with no evidence that he is interested in being anywhere else. Further, his roots are at the JUCO level and that’s where a lot of his recruits come from. That works well at the mid-major level but few high majors have found success consistently recruiting JUCOs. Finally, McCasland is a Scott Drew disciple. We don’t know how true this is, but Drew is consistently rated by peers as one of the dirtier coaches in the game. If the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, it may be a non-starter at Marquette.

Bottom Line: An intriguing candidate with lots of success at a very difficult place to win. His lack of networks outside the state of Texas may make it challenging for him to be successful in the Midwest.

Other Coaches We Looked at and Liked:

Brian Dutcher (San Diego State)

Pat Kelsey (Winthrop)

Niko Medved (Colorado State)

Porter Moser (Loyola [IL])

Scott Nagy (Wright State)

Other Coaches We Looked at and Didn’t Like:

Casey Alexander (Belmont)

Michael Huger (Bowling Green State)

Chris Jans (New Mexico State)

Matt McMahon (Murray State)

Brian Wardle (Bradley)

The Rest of the List:

John Becker (Vermont)

Travis DeCurie (Montana)

Joe Golding (Abilene Christian)

John Groce (Akron)

A.W. Hamilton (Eastern Kentucky)

Rik Konkol (Louisiana Tech)

Tod Kowalczyk (Toledo)

Matt Langel (Colgate)

Wes Miller (UNC-Greensboro)

Lamont Paris (Chatanooga)

Mike Rhoades (VCU)

Bob Richey (Furman)

Mark Schmidt (St. Bonaventure)

Russell Turner (UC-Irvine)

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Categories: Analysis, Home

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic


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11 Comments on “Who should be in the running as Marquette’s next head coach?”

  1. Rick Majerus
    March 19, 2021 at 4:40 pm #

    Porter Moser without any questions

  2. Non Plussed
    March 19, 2021 at 6:48 pm #

    Wow, a program like ours and this is the list of candidates?

  3. Ronald Nicolai
    March 19, 2021 at 10:20 pm #

    Eric Mussleman would be my choice. Pry him away from Arkansas. He’s amazing.

  4. John
    March 19, 2021 at 10:34 pm #

    Dwayne Wade is the man

  5. Lance Graves
    March 19, 2021 at 11:13 pm #

    “The most obvious thing is that Liberty the institution has some significant issues”

    What “significant issues” does Liberty have that most every other University doesn’t, and how could any of those “issues” be tied to the head basketball coach?

  6. Mark Biefeld
    March 20, 2021 at 8:33 am #

    Buzz Williams

  7. March 20, 2021 at 11:17 am #

    Any good black coach prospects for MU?

  8. March 20, 2021 at 3:31 pm #

    I admire your spirit, but I disagree that any of those coaches would be better than Wojo. Anyone who discounts the bad bumps Wojo has had (Hausers and Covid included) is not a thoughtful person. But I do agree with you, he has not been a great floor coach, but he did get Marcus Howard who we can probably say with confidence, was an amazing player. Way at the bottom of your list is Porter Moser. Watch this guy bring a mid-American team deep in the tourney second time in 3 years. He should be the #1 prospect in my humble opinion.

    • MICHAEL Hayes
      March 20, 2021 at 3:36 pm #

      mid-major, that is

    March 21, 2021 at 10:49 am #

    Russell Turner would be a great choice. Ask Pros like Caron Butler, Doc Rivers, Metta World Peace why they sent their sons to UCI. He had the second youngest team in the nation (13 freshman and sophomores) this year and finished 18-9. Watch his development of bigs. His teams annually are top ten in the nation in rebounds and defense. His kids all graduate. Ask Don Nelson about him.

  10. March 21, 2021 at 11:15 am #

    They should look seriously at Niko Medved. I’m not saying that because I live in CO. Dude is really good and will end up at a high major very soon.

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